An international team of scientists, evaluating the effectiveness of zinc therapy on Bangladeshi children, report significantly lower rates of child morbidity, hospitalisation and non-injury death.
The scientists from Johns Hopkins University in the US, the Center for Health and Population Research in Bangladesh and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine treated more than 8000 children with zinc, often for a short period, during diarrhoea episodes and documented the results.The incidence of diarrhoea was significantly less and non-injury deaths were 50 per cent less in children residing in areas randomised to receive zinc than in children in the comparison clusters.
The children in the zinc areas received 20 mg elemental zinc daily for 14 days during each episode of diarrhoea in addition to oral rehydration therapy (ORS). In addition, the ORS use increased by 20 per cent and antibiotic use decreased by 60 per cent in the zinc clusters.
Despite many advances, diarrhoeal diseases and the resulting dehydration are still responsible for about 2 million child deaths every year. Most cases occur in developing, resource-poor countries, where children suffer from malnutrition and access to clean water, safe sanitation, and health facilities are limited.
A recent WHO meeting reviewed the findings of this and other zinc trials and concluded that zinc supplements are efficacious in reducing the severity and duration of diarrhoea and recommended that additional effectiveness studies should assess the feasibility of this intervention and the effects on antibiotic use, non-diarrhoeal morbidity and overall child mortality.
Said researcher Baqui, associate professor of International Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said: "The lower rates of child morbidity and mortality with zinc therapy represent substantial benefits from a simple and inexpensive intervention that can be incorporated within existing diarrhoeal disease control efforts which should significantly improve child health and survival."
Participating researcher and author, Abdullah Baqui, published these findings in the 9 November issue of the British Medical Journal.
The study was supported by the Johns Hopkins Family Health and Child Survival Cooperative Agreement and ICCDR,B Cooperative Agreement with funding from the US Agency for International Development.